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Urology. 2001 Jan;57(1):193-8.

Possible role of bradykinin and angiotensin II in the regulation of penile erection and detumescence.

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  • 1Department of Urology, Hannover Medical School, Hannover, Germany.



To examine the functional effects of bradykinin (BK) and angiotensin II (AN II) on isolated human cavernous tissue and to detect any changes in the AN II levels in cavernous and peripheral blood samples taken from healthy volunteers at different functional conditions of the penile erectile tissue. Metabolites of the renin-angiotensin system and endothelium-derived vasoactive substances are known to be involved in the regulation of arterial vascular tone. The human corpus cavernosum (HCC), consisting of endothelial and smooth muscle cells, can be regarded as a compartment comparable to the vascular system.


The relaxing and contracting properties of BK and AN II on isolated HCC were investigated using the organ bath technique. Tissue levels of adenosine-3,5-cyclic monophosphate (cAMP) and guanosine-3,5-cyclic monophosphate (cGMP) were determined using specific radioimmunoassays, after exposing isolated HCC strips in a dose-dependent manner to BK, forskolin, and sodium nitroprusside. Blood samples were drawn simultaneously from the corpus cavernosum and cubital vein of 34 healthy volunteers at stages of penile flaccidity, tumescence, rigidity, and detumescence. Penile erection was induced by audiovisual and tactile stimulation. AN II levels were determined using a radioimmunoassay.


In vitro, BK, forskolin, and sodium nitroprusside elicited dose-dependent relaxation of norepinephrine-induced tension of isolated HCC, and AN II evoked dose-dependent contraction of the HCC strips. The relaxing potency of BK was paralleled by its ability to elevate the intracellular levels of cAMP and cGMP. In vivo, the AN II levels in the cavernous plasma increased from 21.8 +/- 4.6 pg/mL in the flaccidity phase to 27.9 +/- 10 pg/mL in the detumescence phase. In the peripheral plasma, the AN II levels were 17.2 +/- 6.2 to 19.5 +/- 6.5 pg/mL in the respective penile stages. Thus, the mean AN II levels in the cavernous blood were about 30% higher than in the blood samples taken from the cubital vein. In the cavernous blood, the increase in the AN II plasma levels in the detumescence phase (27.9 +/- 10 pg/mL) was statistically significant.


Our results suggest that penile cavernous smooth muscle tone is partially balanced by kinin-induced relaxation and AN II-induced contraction. Since the tissue and plasma levels of both peptides are regulated by the activity of the angiotensin-converting enzyme, there might be a rationale for the use of angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors in the treatment of erectile dysfunction associated with arterial hypertension.

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